Skip to content Skip to Content
Governing the Narcotic City

Case Studies

Six multi-sited case studies across nine European cities
Governing the Narcotic City


Consumers, traders, and substances circulate among cities. Policy makers, from politicians to local activists, likewise perambulate, exchanging ideas and strengthening knowledge transfer of best practices.

Our project investigates six multi-sited case studies across eight European citiesAmsterdam, Berlin, Bordeaux, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Prague, Rotterdam, and Zurich. Some of these cities have reputations as national and international centers of drug use, whereas others have drug cultures that lay mostly under the radar.

Map of Narcotic City Case Studies in European Cities
Case Study I

Cold War Drug City – 

A Narcotic History of Berlin 1949–1989

Berlin, Amsterdam, Prague

Dr. Stefan Höhne
and Dr. Sage Anderson
in cooperation with Fixpunkt e.V. and Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg Museum 
(FHXB) Berlin

In the 1970s, West-Berlin became a hot-spot for new public drug cultures and a laboratory for regulatory approaches. Albeit to a lesser extent, the same holds true for East-Berlin, as – in contact with the West – drug scenes developed that brought together migrants, diplomats, dissidents, students, and others. Especially in the 1980s, the divided city became a crucial hub within a larger network of cities – including Amsterdam and Prague – where knowledge, people, and capital circulated and intertwined with narcotic spaces. Using historical network analysis, archival research and oral history, this project reconstructs the heretofore unexplored networks of public drug cultures in Cold War Berlin that often transcended and undermined the Iron Curtain.

Rave Club in Berlin, from the Series Maria 2009-2011, Copyright: Ben de Biel.
Case Study II

›Junkie Kingdoms:‹ 

Open Drug Scenes and the Narcotic City

Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Zürich, Frankfurt

Prof. Dr. Gemma Blok
and PD Dr. Peter-Paul Bänziger
in cooperation with MDHG Belangenvereniging Druggebruikers (Association of Drug Users) and the Amsterdam City Museum.

The increasing use of heroin and crack cocaine that came into fashion in Europe in the 1970s and 1980s respectively, at some point created a distinctly visible form: ‘Junkies’ and their dealers started to assemble – deliberately or as a consequence of active governmental intervention – near train stations. These locations near public transportation hubs addressed incoming and outgoing commuters, an important consumer group for the informal market. Here, they conducted their business and visibly used drugs in public spaces such as parks. Initially, many visitors were drug users and sellers at the same time, dealing to support their costly habits. Increasingly, however, the roles of sellers and buyers were separated due to repressive politics and the related emergence of organized selling. 

In terms of methodology, the project makes use of oral history and archival research in order to conduct an in-depth analysis of several large, concentrated, open drug scenes in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Zurich, and Frankfurt that existed from the 1960s to the early 1990s. This history sheds light on the shifting debates regarding drug use on the one hand and freedom and safety in public space on the other by offering historical cases that help articulate the intersections of health, policy, and mobility. It examines the struggles of urban actors in dealing with transnational user cultures and diversity in public space, while at the same time elucidating the drug cultures that were present at these open sites from within, starting from the experience of the drug users and sellers themselves. The current memory culture surrounding the history of these former open drug scenes (for instance in movies, museums, memoirs) will be analyzed as well.

Case Study III

Raves and the Golden Age of Partying:
Narcotic Imaginations of Post-Unification Berlin

Berlin, Amsterdam, Bordeaux

Dr. Thomas Bürk
in cooperation with
Bildungswerk Berlin der Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung
(The Educational Institute of the Heinrich-Böll foundation).

This case study examines questions of control, moral panic, romanticism, and geographies of affect linked to (often informal) political economies. It analyses drug cultures that arose from the rave scenes in three European cities: Berlin, Amsterdam, and Bordeaux, with a focus on Berlin. Coming out of the Cold War, the image of newly unified Berlin in the early 1990s was defined by practices, narratives, and imaginations of counterculture, dance, and excess. This new party scene was synonymous with the creative, temporary appropriations of (semi)-public spaces, the rapid emergence of new night-time economies, and the consumption of (relatively new) drugs. All of which created a new mythology of Berlin as hedonistic metropolis of techno, club culture, and new economies of a leisure and consumption-based cultural industry. 

We combine the living archive of literature, films, and other artifacts and representations of urban rave culture after 1989 with ethnographic fieldwork and oral his/herstories in order to trace narratives and practices of urban place-making through rave culture. The findings and results from Berlin will be compared with those from Amsterdam and Bordeaux.

Case Study IV

Everyday Life
in the Shadow of the Narcotic City


Prof. Dr. Louise Fabian
and Prof. Dr. Anders Lund Hansen
in cooperation with Projekt Udenfor (Project Outside) and Christiania Researcher in Residence

Alternative Spaces, (Self)Governance, ethnicity and marginalization
The case study explores how the politics of governing drug and marginalized citizens have changed over time, according to shifting visions of the welfare state, social politics and shifting ideologies of state interventions aimed at supporting and/or controlling the more deprived and socially vulnerable populations. In Copenhagen we study Christiania as an alternative public space, a former squatter community and laboratory for alternative everyday urbanisms, democratic organization, strategies of drug governance, and social and environmental justice. We explore the intersection of the governing and regulation of Christiania as a “narcotic city” on the one hand and gentrification processes on the other. In Aarhus we supplement the study with two cases; a “temporary housing” experiment for former homeless people and the stigmatized housing estate Gellerup that are being portrayed as a (public) space of fear with a drug using immigrant youth.

Wall in Christiania, 2018. Copyright: Louise Fabian.
Case Study V

Gendered Governance of the Narcotic City:
Mapping Feminist Party Practices

Amsterdam, Berlin, Bordeaux

Dr. Mélina Germes
and Dr. Jenny Künkel
in cooperation with
Université Populaire de Bordeaux

Objective: Masculinist discourses and governance practices oftentimes ignore female drug cultures and tend to portray intoxicated female bodies as monstrous mothers or vulnerable victims, especially in public space. As a corrective to this construction of female drug users as objects of anxiety, shame, and disgust, this project will explore how women self-govern drug-related violence and aim to create spaces of care and empowerment for safe and joyful drug use. Drawing on the rich literature on emotional geographies, the morally charged fields of drug use and sexual violence will serve to explore how affect and narratives of emotion are implicated in spatial politics.

Methodologies: The research focuses on the (self-)governing of feminist party spaces in three cities with vibrant and often connected feminist and drug scenes: Berlin, Amsterdam, and Bordeaux. Exploring new participatory methodologies – the use of (collective) zine production for research – the project, firstly, analyzes how users of feminist night time economies perceive the spaces, what feelings are invoked, and what is seen as problematic. Secondly, the project turns to already existing problem-solving attempts and analyzes the self-regulation of feminist party spaces. Awareness and safer drug consumption teams that aim to prevent dangers arising at the intersections of sexist society and drug consumption have recently become common place at leftist festivals, parties, and sometimes even for-profit clubs. Semi-structured interviews with team members and organizers of feminist party spaces as well as participant observation will map existing approaches, analyze the power relations addressed and created by the spatial politics, and examine the role of emotions therein.

Case Study VI

Trip Advisors: Public Spaces of Urban Drug-Tourism

Berlin, Amsterdam, Prague

Dr. habil Boris Michel
and Frederieke Westerheide
in cooperation with
Open Berlin e.V.

This case study investigates the intersection between urban tourism and the narcotic city. It focuses on drug-tourism in Amsterdam, Berlin and Prague, three cities that share a reputation for having liberal drug policies and vibrant party scenes. All three cities have become increasingly popular destinations for a rising number of tourists as well as short-term residents from across the globe. 

By tracing and mapping practices and policies, the project aims to produce new knowledge about the dynamics of drug-tourism, touristification, and gentrification, examining the under-researched relationship between drug cultures and urban tourism. 

The project makes use of interviews, mapping, and discourse analysis, paying close attention to touristic practices as well as to local articulations and regulations of drug use and trade. An emphasis is placed on the similarities, differences, and connections among these increasingly touristified cities and the ways actors negotiate local drug cultures and urban change.


Don’t hesitate to get in touch with us if you would like to find out more about the Narcotic City Case Studies.